Anti-smacking law Bradford's legacy

Last updated 10:23 25/09/2009

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Green MP Sue Bradford has spent 10 years in Parliament but the public will remember her for one thing: being the driving force behind the so-called "anti-smacking" law.

Ms Bradford entered Parliament in 1999, at No 4 on the list. Eight years later, it was her private member's bill which led to the repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act; children could no longer be smacked for the purposes of correction alone.

She earned many accolades for her determination to change the law to, as she saw it, better protect children, including the New Zealand Psychological Society Public Interest Award for people who have made valuable contributions to psychology in the service of the public interest.

However, it also earned her many enemies; just this week, a 37-year-old Auckland man accused of sending her an offensive email appeared in Auckland District Court.

The law also failed to find popularity with the general public, with 87.6 of those who participated in a referendum last month voting "no" to the question: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"

The result came on top of the Greens' rejection of Ms Bradford for the party's top female spot earlier this year when they instead opted for Metiria Turei to replace Jeanette Fitzsimons. Ms Bradford was, reportedly, deeply wounded by the decision.

The champion of the poor came to Parliament as a well-known protester and was first arrested aged just 16, following a sit-in at the American embassy.

She was "shocked" by her arrest and the following strip-search, night in the cells and Youth Court appearance.

"Even though I came from a comparatively well-off, stable, family, I got a real sense through those and other experiences of what life's really like for a lot of people," she said.

She decided to fight for people who were "powerless, because that's what you are when you're strip-searched by police when you're a kid and a girl".

"So I made a choice about whose side I was on."

She was strongly influenced by the beliefs of Karl Marx and at 15 was a member of the Progressive Youth Movement, the youth wing of the Communist Party.

It has been often reported that she was nearly expelled from Auckland Girls Grammar for selling Mao's Little Red Book to classmates.

After leaving university with a BA in history and Chinese, she became a journalist – a career later chosen by daughter Katie.

Ms Bradford's own journalistic career was cut short by the birth of twin boys, the first two of her five children.

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Tragedy visited the family in 1995 when her schizophrenic son, Danny, committed suicide. Her father also died, in what she described as "a very hard year".

Ms Bradford spent 16 years in the unemployed workers movement and has said her aim was to have as big an impact as possible on unemployment and poverty issues.

She decided to run for Parliament because she was frustrated by successive governments ignoring what unemployed workers groups were saying. She believed the only way to get respect for her views was to go to Parliament, introducing it to what she called "street politics".

A few criticised that decision but not many, she said.

Most respected her for coming from the school of hard knocks – the grind of years working for underfunded organisations, "getting arrested and beaten up by cops over and over again", copping "a lot of flak for being an out-front activist".

But while she has a reputation for being stroppy, Ms Bradford said she had never been one to swear at cops while on a protest.

Ms Bradford leaves Parliament having never reached her goal of becoming a minister.

- NZPA

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